Most women in the church have participated in the visiting teaching program. As a teacher or as a teachee, most of us have had some experiences with it. I have had seasons when i was a good visiting teacher, a bad visiting teacher, and plenty of months when i was a “deliver a treat on the last day of the month” visiting teacher. I have made some amazing friends through the program. It encourages individual service and relationships, which can be a great blessing for us and our sisters.
I think visiting teaching offers us opportunities for Christlike growth by giving us a duty towards people not of our own choosing. Fulfilling that duty moves the stranger, the other, into a fellow striving saint, and possibly into a friend or even a sister. It also serves a very practical purpose to help the relief society president and the ward council better know how to meet the needs of members of the ward.
Visiting teacher is a role that all adult women have an opportunity to accept. We don’t prepare our young women for that potentially transformative experience.
As we increasingly witness the exodus of young members from the church, we must try to prepare our youth for meaningful participation in the gospel. Young men home teach as junior companions, learning to make appointments, deliver a message, and hopefully, to serve and love people outside their families. This can be seen as training them to become missionaries. When young women transition to singles wards they are thrust into visiting teaching callings that they may well have no experience with. Young women may have heard their mothers speak about visiting teaching, but they likely have never observed a visit. YSA wards can be a church environment where many young people feel both superfluous (so much turnover, so few callings available) and isolated. Visiting teaching could provide opportunities to both serve and be served, leading to better relationships with both fellow ward members and the gospel.
While we are on the subject, I wonder why VT only visit women, instead of families.
Do you think junior visiting teachers would work? Is there another way to nurture our younger sisters in the gospel? Do we invest in developing our younger sisters at all, either as future missionaries or as future leaders?
Thank you for this post! You pose important questions, Ellen. I have two small daughters whom I worry about continuously because of the sexism and dearth of leadership training and opportunities for spiritual growth in the church. I love your idea of inviting young women to be junior visiting teachers. Maxine Hanks has said that visiting and home teaching efforts are essentially performing lay ministry roles. Before she pointed that out to me, I had never considered that before. It doesn’t make up for the sexism inherent in the patriarchal LDS church, but it shifted my thinking a bit in terms of the importance of these two programs. It doesn’t make logical sense for males to have stewardship over families in home teaching and women only for women. And yet I think that is another arbitrary rule of patriarchy. And despite this arbitrary rule, in my experience as a visiting teacher over the past 25 years, I have directly or indirectly helped a woman’s family when I have helped her. Recently that looked like supporting a mother who is in an abusive marriage get herself and her children to a safe place physically and emotionally. The husband/father still attends church despite an upcoming hearing for an order of protection, and it has been a relief to not feel responsible for my VTee’s now ex-husband as I continue to minister to her. And I have worked in tandem with her home teachers to get her children gifts for Christmas and to coordinate efforts for much-needed repairs to their home. It’s not a perfect system, and I think it would work better for men to minister to men and women to women (with both considering the needs of the children and family). It would model partnership between women and men, which we have no model for in the church (which I think contributes to dysfunctional marriages and families). It would be a start in righting the wrongs of patriarchy. And this kind of equal partnership should include, as you suggest, training our YW to be junior visiting teachers just as the YM train in home teaching assignments. Thanks to your idea, when my daughters are of age, I’m going to bring them along to visits (with my VTees’ permission). In my experience as a VTer, I have often had to do VTing alone anyway because of being pared with someone who has different availability or low interest in making visits. We can always use more ministering to each other in the church. Why not utilize our YW, as you suggest? It will surely help everyone.
Your suggestions to have young women as junior companions and have the VT teach the whole family both sounds good on paper, but consider, often women will open up about problem in front of only her peers, but not with children or her husband present. And the teen girls are still children and many women would not say anything with them there. Is a woman in an abusive relationship going to say anything in front of a 14 year old? Is she going to say anything with her husband abuser sitting there? I know that my mother would never have said that we were out of food when my father was sitting there, and he sure would not have said it. Many men are the same. They will not lower their pride even if it means children go hungry.
So, when I was RSP, I always considered VT as the back up program to double check on the family by getting the mother ALONE, so she feels safe in opening up. It is like the police going into a domestic violence situation. The first thing they do is separate the couple and talk to the woman alone, preferably with a female officer. Sure, if everything is fine in the family, then having the VT meet with the whole family or having a teenager as companion would be good. But then you lose that back up of finding out what the wife will not say in front of her husband or children.
I agree. I would not want a young woman to VT me. I wouldn’t open up about anything.
I think I was 10 when the church started the Achievement Days program for girls. (Before that it was Cub scouts for boys and nothing for girls). I remember one week our leader took us visiting teaching. One of the sister’s husband was an artist and she took us on a tour through her house so we could see the art. The other sister fed us dehydrated watermelon (which I didn’t like, but most of the other girls did.) I’m not sure having a gaggle of girls was really helpful for the sisters we visited, but it sure made a huge impression on me, since it let me see how you get to know a different side of people when you go into their home, instead of just seeing them at church.
I can’t say that I’ve ever actually appreciated visits from home teachers, even the ones that don’t stay too long. But visiting teaching has helped me to grow spiritually, especially by some of the service I’ve been able to give as a visiting teacher: the space to talk, the available childcare, doing the dishes, helping clean everything when the kids bring home lice, being the friend to get out of the house with, the hugs…
Thanks for the thought provoking comments. They lead me to question the purpose of visiting teaching. Wendy and Anna- do visiting teachers function as social workers? Is the concept of woman to woman visiting a way to accommodate patriarchy? Do we assume that men don’t need man to man visiting, that a woman is unfit to teach men or families, and the only true way to assess needs is by talking to the sisters, without the husband present? I have on occasion visited with sisters whose husbands joined in, and it was a very different sort of visit. I do agree that feeling safe with another person is a part of developing friendship, and that might be impaired with a young junior companion. Kaylee- does Activity day assist our girls in any way for adult participation in the gospel? Is that the purpose of activity day? So much depends on the leaders, given that it is a program without a program. And ultimately what are females preparing for? It isn’t leadership. I am in no way trivializing visiting teaching. If that is our only adult role maybe we should do it better, and prepare our younger sisters for it.
During my social work training, when we talked about figuring out the family needs, (#1 is there food in the house) it did kind of remind me of VTing, or maybe being Relief Society President, so, yeah maybe VT do function in some of the same ways as social workers, but I don’t think they are qualified for the more serious aspects of social work and just like bishops, need to know when to recommend professional help.
I don’t think VT accommodates patriarchy. At. all. I think it counter acts some of it. I think it cures some of the horrible problems of patriarchy. It says that, yes, the whole family is important, but the mother is essential and when “the mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.” The very worst disasters of patriarchy, such as domestic violence and any form of unricheous dominion, are the times when women most need someone they can confide in. They are not going to tell a home teacher.
I see your point about how men teach families and women are only fit to teach other women, and I don’t view VT at all through that lens. I see it as the woman is not another child in the family. The home teachers see the whole family, because under patriarchy, the man is the head of the home. The HT calls up the man and sets up an apt, then the whole family gathers and has the visit. The visit is under the direction and presided over by the husband/father. Without VTing, the other adult in the home is reduced to the position of a child. VTing being just for the woman tells her she is important, one of the only ways in which the church tells adult women they have worth. She is worth her own personal visit. VT Upgrades her from just another child in the home, her husband’s auxillery, to someone of personal value.
Now, if we could magically get rid of patriarchy, perhaps women would not need VTing.
I just don’t see how having a woman come in and give a lesson to the whole family changes the fact that the father still presides in his home and if the father is exercising unrighteous dominion, a female HTer isn’t going to fix a thing.
Perhaps to fix the problems you see, we need to send the activity day girls on a service project to help clean some shut in’s house. Perhaps we need to stop telling men that they preside. Perhaps instead of just telling men not to abuse, we need to start treating abuse as a darned good teason to divorce. Perhaps we need to totally drop the man as head of the house, and start really seeing women as adults and not as the husband’s auxiliary.
But in the meantime, I see VTing as the best protection against patriarchy.
While we are on the subject, I wonder why VT only visit women, instead of families.
I think the reasoning is that some women would respond better to other women as visitors, and thus need visits from women in addition to male visits (which of course are necessary! Being taught by men is always necessary!) and also that home teaching is such a good experience for men that it might be a good experience for women, too, hence the visiting teaching program.
But inherent in the home/visiting teaching program are some assumptions that I question:
1. Women need to hear lessons from other women, and also to hear lessons from men, but men only need to hear lessons from other men.
2. Women have twice as much time available to dedicate to entertaining church visitors than men do.
Because of the sexist nature of how the home/visiting teaching programs are set up, I have trouble getting excited about involving young women in the program, even though I can see how this would bring more parity to the youth.
Ideally, I’d like to see both home teaching and visiting teaching expanded to include both men and women. Home teachers would still teach entire families, and might be a pair of women or a pair of men, and either could be accompanied by junior companions. Visiting teaching would continue to be focused on adult individuals and would function as it does currently in RS (although I’d prefer less focus on formal visits), but men would start visit teaching each other too.
VTing is not a happy place for me – too many small confidences broken within that program to ever “open up” to anyone who comes to visit in any “official” capacity.
It is interesting though to see that others view the additional layer of VTing for women to be a positive step against heavy handed patriarchy. I’ve always seen it as an additional burden on women, similar to additional Relief Society meetings, or whatever the current name for them is. But it makes me glad to see that others get comfort from it.
A few months ago, we had a presentation in our ward about H & VTing. Except the teacher only ever referred to HTing. In every single slide and video shown and question asked, it referred to HTing.
Every now and then, the teacher would say, “and of course, the same is true of VT”, but all this did was to point out to me how the same *wasn’t* actually true of Visiting teaching. e.g. “Make sure you involve the whole family in your HT appointment”, “use HTing time together as a way to teach your son about stewardship”.
When I viewed this presentation in the context of an entire Sunday presented solely by men (all the speakers in Sacrament meeting, teacher in Sunday school and even the RS teacher that week was a HC representative) it was genuinely painful. We as a gender are so invisible and dispensible within our church community that a man didn’t think he even needed to consider what possible differences there might be between the HT and VT programmes, or try to connect with more than 50% of his audience.